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Three UW-Eau Claire faculty members receive excellence awards

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Three UW-Eau Claire faculty members are the recipients of the 2022-23 Karlgaard Faculty Excellence Awards, newly established $10,000 donor-supported awards that recognize accomplished faculty in computer science, mathematics and physics.

Three accomplished University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty members have received recently established donor-supported excellence awards.

Recipients of the 2022-23 Karlgaard Faculty Excellence Awards are Dr. Jim Rybicki, associate professor of physics and astronomy; Dr. Silviana Amethyst, associate professor of mathematics; and Dr. Jim Seliya, assistant professor of computer science.

The $10,000 faculty awards — funded by David and Marilyn Karlgaard, UW-Eau Claire alumni and longtime donors to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation — are available annually to faculty in the departments of computer science, physics and astronomy, and mathematics. Each of the three awards, available through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, have specific criteria, though all recognize talented faculty and aim to encourage them to stay at UW-Eau Claire, the donors say.

"Great professors are essential for student excellence,” David Karlgaard says. “From the beginning of our support to UWEC, we felt it important to support students through scholarships and also support faculty through teaching excellence awards. A combination of good students and good professors leads to success for all."

The Karlgaards’ commitment to supporting UW-Eau Claire faculty is greatly appreciated, says Dr. Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“They have long understood that one of the most important things we can do as a university is recognize our outstanding faculty,” Sternfeld-Dunn says of the donors. “This year’s recipients represent three faculty committed to being outstanding teachers, researchers and members of our university community.”

Jim Rybicki

Dr. Jim Rybicki

Rybicki received the Karlgaard Excellence Award for a tenured faculty member, recognizing his teaching excellence and years of service to the university. The award rewards senior faculty who are “role models in teaching excellence and are mentors to younger faculty to improve their teaching.”

In his 11th year at UW-Eau Claire, Rybicki’s research focuses on the field of organic electronics, which examines how carbon-based devices can be used as next-generation sensors. Examples of these devices are light emitting diodes and solar cells. Rybicki also investigates spintronics, a phenomenon that uses the spin of an electron to transmit signals in nanoscale devices. He has published 10 journal articles and has mentored student projects on many topics, including acoustics and neutrinos, and has even designed circuits to operate escape rooms.

“Dr. Rybicki is an outstanding teacher,” says Dr. Erik Hendrickson, professor of physics and chair of the physics and astronomy department. “He’s known for his infectious enthusiasm in the classroom and his efforts to find ways to convey complicated scientific ideas clearly to the broad range of students our department teaches.”

Rybicki often collaborates with professors from outside the sciences, Hendrickson says. For example, he has team taught with faculty from the history, music and geography departments, and worked with an English faculty member to create the science fiction radio drama, “Bend in the River.” He also works with faculty from across campus to create College of Arts and Sciences events, including stage plays, art installations and live music performances.

Silviana Amethyst

Dr. Silviana Amethyst

Amethyst received the Karlgaard Excellence Award for a tenured faculty member who is working toward full-professor status. The recipient demonstrates excellence in teaching, scholarship and service and is actively engaged in faculty-student collaborative research.

Amethyst, who is in her sixth year of teaching at UW-Eau Claire, received tenure in 2022 due to her “impressive achievements in teaching, research and service,” says Dr. Abra Brisbin, associate professor of mathematics and chair of the mathematics department. In her teaching, Amethyst “exemplifies excellence in applied and computational mathematics,” Brisbin says.

Amethyst’s research interests span the fields of scientific computing, algebraic geometry and mathematical art. Since joining UW-Eau Claire’s faculty, she’s published five journal articles and supervised eight student-faculty research projects. She also served as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics on two occasions.

As the course coordinator for Calculus I, Amethyst worked to enhance the applications for biology majors in the course, Brisbin says. She redesigned and teaches Programming for Data Science, a course in the master’s in data science program. She also developed a new course, Computing in Python, to introduce data science to undergraduate students, including those in UW-Eau Claire’s new bioinformatics major, Brisbin says.

Jim Seliya

Dr. Jim Seliya

Seliya received the Karlgaard Excellence Award for a faculty member who is working toward tenure. The award supports the recipient’s teaching and scholarship in fulfillment of tenure and promotion requirements.

Now in his third year at UW-Eau Claire, Seliya’s research interests include data mining, machine learning, big data analytics, deep learning, software engineering, computer science education, health informatics and applied computing sciences.

“The breadth of applications related to Dr. Seliya’s research make him particularly deserving of this award,” says Dr. Alex Smith, interim chair of the computer science department. “He uses neural network and data mining techniques to analyze big data sets. Examples of these applications are deepfake detection in social media and classification of medical examination reports. Another example of the application of his research is the development of a system to predict stuttering in speech. The long-term focus of this project is to deploy the system in underdeveloped countries where technology for speech therapy is not readily accessible.”

Seliya published 13 scholarly articles in 2021, several of which have UW-Eau Claire undergraduates as co-authors. In 2021, Seliya was the principal investigator on four undergraduate research collaborations supported by UW-Eau Claire’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. He also was co-principal investigator for nine similar projects involving undergraduate students. In 2021, he served on the program committee for two international conferences, one on machine learning and applications, and the other on tools with artificial intelligence.

In addition to their support of the faculty awards, the Karlgaards have invested several million dollars in scholarships for UW-Eau Claire students studying computer science, mathematics and physics. Their transformative investments have been recognized with the naming of the Karlgaard Towers residence halls on campus. David is a 1967 UW-Eau Claire graduate and Marilyn attended UW-Eau Claire. They met on campus and currently live in Great Falls, Virginia.